8 Tips to Engage Employees in Sustainable Manufacturing

From 3BL Media, Published on 23 February 2015

Employee engagement is key to any company's sustainability success story. The majority of GM's 220,000 employees around the world support their global manufacturing operations. That's 171 plants from Cairo to Kaiserslautern working to continually reduce their carbon footprint and connect with their communities.

Just imagine the impact if every one of them worked with a sustainability mindset no matter their title or department.

Although there's always more work to be done and more people to convert, they're making progress in building a culture of sustainability. Here are some of the tips they've learned along the way.

  • 1. What's the plan? Integrate environmental performance and sustainability into your business plan. Make it part of your company's business metrics.
  • 2. Drive accountability. Every plant has a scorecard where these business metrics such as quality, safety and environmental performance are measured and reported. To help them meet the targets, each work group on a plant floor has their own piece of the pie. For example, they may be working to increase recycling within their station, so they meet regularly to discuss status and implement activities such as moving recycling bins closer to better accommodate scrap needs.
  • 3. Money talks. They've reinforced the importance of sustainability by linking environmental performance and compensation, from top manufacturing executives to even a group of salaried employees in their manufacturing area.
  • 4. Bring in the experts. Their facilities have at least one professional focused on both efficiency and conservation. That person inputs his or her facility's energy, water, waste and carbon performance into a global database to ensure they're hitting goals and reaching companywide commitments. They are a subject matter expert to the plant team on all things environment.
  • 5. Share. Set up a system where people can share their successes so that a win in Joinville, Brazil becomes a win in Gliwice, Poland. They have a common and consistent global manufacturing system so that no matter where a facility is located around the world, they're able to easily communicate the win and ultimately implement the actions more broadly.
  • 6. Dollars and sense. They reward employees for their innovative energy, waste and water reduction ideas that they implement and give them a cut of the savings, up to $20,000. This gets everyone thinking about conservation even if it's not in their job title, and gives them a fresh perspective.
  • 7. Give props. Don't underestimate the power of internal recognition. Whether it's a plant manager recognizing performance of individual plant teams or executive leadership recognizing a plant's achievement of, say, attaining landfill-free status, it generates pride that continues to fuel sustainability programs.
  • 8. Spread the Word. What good is the knowledge your team's gained if you keep it within your walls? Allow time for employees to volunteer in river cleanups, speak at a school, or host a recycling tour within your plant. One of their plants helped install new energy-efficient lighting in a nearby women's shelter, saving the nonprofit $9,000 a year on its monthly electricity bills. You know more than you think and you can help more than you know.


"Sustainability saves a company money, contributes to top-line growth and reduces risk at plants – benefits all realized thanks to the innovation and dedication of a committed workforce," said Jim DeLuca, executive vice president of Global Manufacturing at GM.

For more information regarding sustainable supply chains, please refer to the following links:

The Need to Optimize an Organization's Supply Chain
Reduce Your Company's Carbon Footprint with Green Technologies
Constructing Sustainable Business Models
Sustainability in the Business World